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Ancient art form of painting with wax can get you all fired up
Encaustic artist Melody Trivisone uses a blowtorch to blend hot beeswax. - photo by Tom Reed

‘Back to the Earth'

Encaustic art by Atlanta artist Melody Trivisone

Where: Quinlan Visual Arts Center, 514 Green St. NE, Gainesville
When: Through Feb. 20
How much: Free admission; pieces available for sale
More info: 770-536-2575
Also showing at the Quinlan: "Collage at the Q," "Soulful Expressions" and "Nature. History. Art."

Creating art is a process.

You have to prepare your canvas. You mix the colors. You prepare your clothes and the workspace for the onslaught of oil, acrylic or turpentine that is to come.

You fire up the blowtorch.

OK, maybe that last part isn't part of your typical artist's studio. But then again, not all art is created simply by applying paint to canvas.

Atlanta artist Melody Trivisone fired up a blowtorch recently for a demonstration of encaustic art, an art form that's hundreds of years old and uses wax, scraping and heat to create the final pieces. Her work is now on display at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center and includes squares that resemble the surface of rocks, three-dimensional pieces and even a collection of post cards and prescription pads tucked into wooden boxes.

All of them covered or created with wax.

"This is the most fun medium, but I curse it sometimes because it can be difficult if you're trying to do elaborate things," she said while quickly painting a layer of melted wax onto a board.

The encaustic process involves melting beeswax with a small amount of acrylic, adding strength to the wax - otherwise, it would turn into mush as you work with it. Then, Trivisone dips a wide brush into the waxy mixture and pulls it across the board; rather than canvas, she opts for plywood or a similar panel.

As the wax moves across the board, it dries to a translucent white.

After the board is covered in a layer of wax, she fires up a blowtorch and hovers it over the wax, melting it just enough to get any air bubbles out from under the base layer. This creates a smooth surface on which she can begin her painting.

In encaustics, everything is wax. So that means her paints are oil paints mixed with the beeswax/acrylic mixture, too. Rather than buy pre-mixed paints, she opts to drizzle in some color into the melted beeswax and create her own.

In fact, Trivisone said, there is a lot of special equipment some say is needed for working in this medium. But she doesn't buy it.

"You can go out and buy very expensive equipment to do encaustics, and it's very intimidating," she said. "I use a frying pan, an old-fashioned griddle, brushes from Home Depot."

She said she discovered encaustic painting while on vacation about six years ago. It's an art form that goes back about 2,000 years, when the Greeks would paint in wax on the sides of their boats, making them waterproof.

"I couldn't figure out what it was and did some research and found out it was encaustic," she said of the painting that inspired her. "It's a very long-lasting medium."

After the first layer of wax is smoothed and cooled, the real creativity begins. Trivisone dabs, drips and drizzles waxy paint over the base layer, mixing and mingling colors to create abstract forms. Then she takes hard objects, like a metal scraper or a wire brush, and adds indentations and hash marks throughout the surface. Sometimes she'll even add a wax-covered photograph, piece of wallpaper or paint wax over a 3-D object that leaves a pattern when it's picked up.

And thus, the creative process begins. Sometimes a painting will come together quickly, said Trivisone, who worked in abstract landscapes before learning encaustic painting. Other times, a painting will take several forms, scraped down close to the first layer before being built back up with layers and layers of colored wax before she pronounces it finished.

"You apply it in different ways, kind of get your texture under there," she said. "A lot of my depth comes from scraping; I call it build and destroy. ... I have my palette and every time I start to do something, because I saw something that inspired me, it turns out totally different.

"I just like to do all kinds of strange things."